Growing numbness to racist rants must be countered by increasing dialogue

Vernon A. Williams
Vernon A. Williams

By Vernon A. Williams

Words are cheap. But the cost of callous verbal indiscretions is often exorbitant. It just never ends.

This week alone, Sharon Osbourne of the television show “The Talk” brought co-host Cheryl Underwood to tears challenging her offense to United Kingdom racist TV personality Piers Morgan. “The Talk” has been put on indefinite hiatus considering the history of Osbourne who allegedly called former co-host Julie Chen “slanty eyes” and said Holly Robinson Peete was “too ghetto” to be on the show.

Then there is Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson who said during a recent radio interview that the predominantly white Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6 at the Capitol really didn’t worry him because the terrorists were “(white) people who love this country.” Then he added, “Had that been tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters, I might have been more concerned.”

Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry made racially insensitive remarks on a call to one of his African-American constituents, Pastor James Lane. When discovered, outraged citizens demanded his resignation. Instead, they received an apology; a familiar pattern in the technology-savvy new millennium.

A high school sports announcer came under fire for racist remarks he made about a girls basketball team that knelt during the national anthem in recognition of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. He explained that he was diabetic and spoke out-of-character obscenities occasionally when he had a blood sugar spike.

Hamilton, Georgia, police chief Gene Allmond and one of his officers, John Brooks, were fired after being caught on body cam disparaging the brutal death of a Black man in police custody and adding horrifying remarks about slavery, African Americans shot and killed by police and political wiz Stacey Abrams.

A Seattle police officer was fired after responding to a trespass call that led to the removal of a Black man who appeared to be of African descent. The arresting officer engaged in a conversation with other officers in which he referred to the suspect as Kunta Kinte (an 18th century man sold into slavery in Alex Haley’s novel “Roots”).

Charles L. Venable, the director and chief executive of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, was forced to resign after posting a job opening for a new director in which it was specified that the individual should be capable of bringing in a more diverse audience while maintaining “the traditional, core white audience.” Officially sanctioned, Venable’s comment was bias offensive on so many levels.

The worst part about that outrageous incident was the people in charge of Newfield’s had been apprised of issues of bias and gave lip service to addressing changes.

Not soon enough. Kelli Morgan was recruited in 2018 to diversify the museum’s gallery. She resigned last July calling the museum’s culture “toxic” and “discriminatory” in a letter sent to Venable, board members, artists and Indianapolis media. She accused the museum of implicit bias and a racist rant by a board member that left her in tears. Venable promised they would do better but they clearly didn’t.

So how do we do better? Is the quest for racial equity and social justice an exercise in futility? History says “no.” Even when systemic racism has permeated the most powerful levels of the American diaspora, consistent and unbending resistance has articulated the path of advances once unimaginable. Certainly, more are to come.

Conversations are key. I am honored to participate in such initiatives on three levels.

The first is obviously my column at the Chicago/Gary Crusader under the leadership of freedom fighter Dorothy Leavell, where truths are spoken. The second is at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where I work in the Office of Community Engagement and participate in campus anti-racial awareness initiatives – which include the Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI and OnyxFest.

The last and most recent is a periodic webcast discussing critical issues that confront Northwest Indiana and beyond. The program, “Lake Effect: Beyond the Headlines,” includes Gary Chamber of Commerce CEO Chuck Hughes, Post-Tribune columnist Jerry Davich, Northwest Indiana Times editor Marc Chase and yours truly.

There’s no telling where regular dialogue between veteran journalists – two Black and two white – might eventually lead us. But without broadening the conversation on race and diversity, we most assuredly are going nowhere fast.

The current topic focuses on racism. Watch the first installment of “Lake Effect: Beyond the Headlines” at: [], [] or [].

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